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Times and Places Uncategorized

Electric Face

Smooth plaster walls, cold to the touch, in the dark. Remember how you felt the Sunday carpet under your bare feet? Press your face to the window and greet whoever you meet there, looking back. Run your fingers over the cold, reach up, find the Switch. Don’t rush, just hold it for a second. I want to see when you light up.

She’s strapped in, locked in tight in the back of the black maria – filtering sunlight that’s cold and washed very very clean, sunlight that’s been ironed. Every single house has a completely empty pristine upstairs bedroom that she sees through the meshed in window. Every single room contains the secret of eternal life, the hidden mystery which is to make the bed and dust a lot. The driver speeds up and hits every bump on the way up and on the way down again.

Unexpected twist: Junkyard Casanova, rebuilt by the swishing knives of wipe clean PVC surgeons, takes a turn around the block in her coach and four; glimpses the speeding wagon and makes a snap decision. The beasts whip up into a gallop. “This”, she says “is clearly an emergency for which I have Affection.”

You wanna press that Switch yet? I’m neither stopping you nor pleading with you. I mean, I want you to press it, but you know that. The dark is good too, but something is moving outside the window and I don’t know how long that lock will last.

The screech of tyres, but it’s too late; the captive, noticing at last that her blindfold is perfectly see through and her bindings are barely cobwebs, leaps from the unlocked back door of the wagon, angling between a forest of upright swords, to land on tiptoes beside Junkyard Miss Casanova. She hands over the priziest of prizes as the judges go wild, scoring them both perfect 10s for style and vile. Nova takes it from her, a pomegranate wrapped with a neat ribbon, the prettiest one that you ever did see.

“Ringstone Round, darling” says the Nova, trying her hardest not to explode just yet. They both instinctively look at the sky anyway, but the constellations are just FINE.

You did it. You pressed the switch and that thing outside leaped away into the laughing dark. Your face illuminates; your bone structure is a fine sculpture of neon tubes, each one perfectly shaped and aesthetically as perfect as ANYTHING. The curve of your jaw flares between blue and green as we overcome awkwardness. We waltz across the Sunday rug and the points of our high heels score tally marks into the floor. Outside, a new star suddenly flares over the ruined ski slope and illuminates the cemetery, casting wild and unknown shadows from every headstone.

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Times and Places Uncategorized

YOU

You

Yes, you.  Right now, under a sky.  Looking up at Mars, which holds the horizon like an old friend.  I used to dream about walking, flying on Mars.  I had wings.  It was my favourite dream, I think.

You.  There you are, all of You.  I wonder what it is You look up for?  I’m standing on the front step of my house.  The waxing moon is to my left, Mars straight in front.  A cat hides under a car, watching me – I worry.  There are foxes here, late at night, a whole family of them, beautiful, probably lethal to everything.

There are so many of You, and I wish I could be here with many of You.  There are some I know well, and some I am just starting to know, and some I don’t know at all, You, the ones that I’ve never even met.  The night is huge and looming and full of a cold sound, but I think my job tonight is to be a musician, and to improvise a tune, a little counterpoint to the night song – I can’t see the other musicians, but that’s OK.  Sometimes, the song gets really minor key, and I don’t mind a song in a minor key – but not forever.  Not always.  Songs end, and I don’t want this to be the blues, no need for torch songs tonight, no matter how much I want to play the tragic femme fatale.  No.  Or rather, yes, because that’s how it changes.  Just when you think You know what the song’s going to be like, a new instrument joins in- you shout YES at the stars –

1973: with apologies to the Reptile House

Here I am, at the top of my life, with the threat of a downhill race in front of me.  I’m not sure I want to look over the edge, yet here I am.  If I’ve made the choice not to have children, perhaps not even to live with anyone, tentative future plans aside, what then?  Where do I go?  Is working worth it, just for a retirement?  Is staying healthy worth it?  Is any of it now serving any point at all, when what I really want is a life of mild debauchery and beautiful music and art?  Art, the Art, the one Art, the only one worth pursuing, the Art that is Us. The Art that is You.

And feeling, feeling an emotion so strongly and so well and with so much honesty, that it changes the world.  Like how I feel right now.  Like the words that you’re reading, because all of You, I want you to hear that sound.   To go outside and listen to the stars and the nightsong and know that no matter how fucked it seems, how lonely you feel, how empty the night looks, it’s not.  I know because I’ve felt that and god knows, it hurts like splinters, shards of glass under the skin, but when you look the night in the face and feel what you want to, and sing the song back at it, you can be more than you ever dreamed.  When You remember.  

You.   I love You. It’s as simple as that, the best truth of all, worth living for. I love You. Would You like to dance?

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Built Things Times and Places

Here

This is the street where it all happened.  Nothing tragic, no more so than anyone else.  This is the place.  I remember it all, every day it seems, I keep telling myself that .  We all have places like that, a street that you visit every day for a year, somewhere that matters.  Then, when a lot of time has passed, you come back to it, but it isn’t the same any more and you start to wonder if you aren’t remembering it properly.  Or has it changed?  Thinking about how that tree got cut back or how they’ve repainted the gate whilst you weren’t there and it feels like a small betrayal.  

Here.  These are our places, but they aren’t ours for long.  I wrote the above paragraph about 12 years ago, processing a huge thing that was very much happening to me, the echoes of which continued for years.  And I dealt with it (and it wasn’t really that huge, not compared to what some people deal with) by choosing my places carefully, new ones that I chose to be in, letting go of old ones.

Here’s another space.  Some random liminal retail park, but once, it was something else.  Once, I stood on this spot, right here, with a woman with very very red hair, and we drank really bitter awful coffee and smoked bitter awful cigarettes and perhaps she liked me and perhaps I liked her, but I really don’t know and it was several lifetimes ago.  I don’t remember my own face then, I don’t remember hers.  And there’s no trace left of either of us, and the place we used to sit and watch the dawn burning the frost away, that’s lost too.  

And I’m really happy about that.  I don’t want old places.  I want the new ones, the ones I’ve chosen.  Ice on the wind, and redblack mornings, oh, I remember the bitter and when I’m feeling tired I miss them, but I chose older and newer places for myself in the end.

Remember this street in that summer, not so long ago.  If it was years and years ago, things change enough to make it bearable, but not when it’s only two years gone.  Not far enough away.  A hot summer day.  Now it’s winter, fading into January and you didn’t spend Christmas here.  Fog in the air and the amber lights shining on, lonely, trying to pretend to be the summer sun.

And it was after writing these words that I found Here, an old, old place.  Fields and woods, looking down over a valley.  Old graves, hidden stones, water breaks the land apart.  The wind screams sometimes, speaks to the skin like a knife, teaches the joy of magpies.  Suddenly, that old world of amber lights was just a dream.  Here is where I’ve always been, Here is where I always will be.  In the places that I choose, that weren’t just arrived at.  Queer, expressing my love without expectation of response, or need to have it returned.  Freedom for the heart that’s been hidden, and kissing anyone who likes to kiss me.  In this place.  Here.

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Times and Places Uncategorized

Rain expected 8PM Sheffield

For a bunch of witches

…so normal and everyday, just a piece of the world that’s always happening, a mundane magic that calls through me like the song of a wineglass, and the roads shine in the last of the sun, and it’ll be full of an enchantment too big for any one heart to hold alone.  So hold hands with me, my loves, and we’ll go walking, shiny second skins reflecting the stars as they come out one by one.

And then there’s the other side of it, the dragging silence of late Sunday.  Full of school ghosts. It’s full of longing, if we’re fortunate, and regret if we are not.  This is what it costs – the Sunday night trains that haunt me, the empty last bus, the traffic lights that change themselves over and over, remembering the crowds.

Do you know what it is to be yourself, to wear yourself in all your colours?  How precious that is?  Oh you do, you do, and you know it well, and it was dearly bought with pain and starlight. And still, it’s such a simple beautiful secret, so simple and so radiant that I want to rush up to each and every high street stranger, to see what light’s in them, to ask with a desperation that borders on mania, is this you?  Look at us, look at this, you can shine, please, if what’s in you is the need to shine, then be radiant, because Sunday night is always coming and the best of times are just little splinters, tiny and bright sharp things, that get swept away before you even feel the scratch.

 I want to put all the shards together again and build something new, something that holds the light

The absolute perfect silence of a Sunday morning and the cold that accompanies it, right through to the bones.  The light that diffuses through strange clouds, taking forms of things never seen.  This city becomes alien, but perhaps we start to reflect a little of that ourselves, maybe that fractured sunrise reflects in our eyes.  Oh, and it’s a hard road back from the shores of night, we all know that, and it’s a steep harsh climb back to the oppressions of Sunday late dark; the empty house, the unmade silent bed, and more wineglasses than you’ll need till next time.  But once I’d come to the beach and looked at the ocean, I never doubted the worth of throwing my heart into it.

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Built Things Times and Places

In our mansion there are many rooms

That point when you’re fever dream struck down on something, viral, vodka, whatever your poison is, caught under daylight when you need it to be night and almost spinning in the street, seeing it all from the angle of outside-

To try to learn a city – and it will only ever be the act of learning, as this place is a language far too complex to fully process – you have to walk. That’s a thing we Know, but don’t; I knew it for years, yet rarely acted upon it. Perhaps it would be better to say that I was Aware, but didn’t Know, or didn’t Act. Three stages, but without each other, they don’t Work.

Walk. I once walked Manchester roads, half out of my mind on grief and starvation, trying to glimpse goddess in the details, but I just found my once-places empty, and bars at the windows of my old home. It was an hour’s train journey and about eleven years to get to my new home. I wasn’t looking properly.

Can you see it? Get out. Look at it. Turn the corner. There! Behind that high hedge, tucked behind the children’s hospital. That house. Three stories, Victorian. A dedication stone: it was the Spiritualist Church. Dead voices talking in every room and now someone lives there and listens out just a bit too attentively every night. Imagine fifty years ago, a single landline, every call a throw of the dice – living or dead callers?

There – great concrete slab of many angled building, locked down and invisible in its vastness for decades, looming over the circular underpass, the empty silent green tiled space. Once I kissed someone there against a sharp grey wall, and felt that cracking ice feeling of the world changing forever. And that stab, oh, it’s dangerous, but it’s so very addictive. Transformation is my vice, but it’s one I share with this town, the town that stole me like a changeling, as soon as I was old enough to dream of its tower mazes and to listen to the deal they offered.

There – the barely visible entrance to the caverns of bats and pale life. There – oh, it’s a tower block, brutalist heaven, but you don’t know about the people that snuck up there to carry on dancing one dawn, years ago, a shining dancefloor with no walls or bouncers, but one hell of an exit charge.

There, right now, the woman on the till thirty minutes ago, making a wonderful confusion of trying not to really fancy the security guard, and you can see that, but if you look, you can see where this used to be the laundry too and how many other stories like that did we miss?

And there’s that dreadful pub, but once it was a supermarket too, and there was a ghost and this story was never written down or shared, but no-one would go into the stockroom alone, apart from one woman who talked to the dead and taught her family something of that skill. And no-one knows how the ghost followed her home and shared her house for years, as a bit of company – the woman next door had budgies instead.

And in each moment, the stab of transformation. The leap when you know you’re going to fall, but it’s alright because falling can be good. There’s always some fear, because that’s part of it, but just once in a while, you can stand in front of the haunted house and knock on the door, let it swing open by itself, walk in, let it slam behind you, like that dream you had. And there’s a black rotary phone that keeps ringing, and dust and incense and kisses from shadows. And all the walls are painted with all the stars, and it’s everything all at once, and it’s ours, ours forever.

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Times and Places

“Once there were mountains”

There was this room or two, or a few more, long ago. Stank. You walked in under the red neon sign, and down stairs that were so slippery with rain and age and fag ends, so slippery, but you probably had heels on that you shouldn’t and who cared anyway? And it’s airless and damp at the same time and frightening, not in a safe scary way, but rather because someone might well try to split your head open. Scary, but in the only way that actually matters, when fear that is an exchange between ourselves and that which is not ourselves.

And we hand over our shaking nerves and self image and we get something new and hard to name in return. It looks at us from that godawful mirror, above the overflowing filth, and it smirks, eyes a bit too wide.

How can it be airless and damp in here at the same time? Everyone’s smoking, smoking for life. God, I miss smoking so so much!

Other rooms. They’re all the same really, I think? All the same night spaces. I can’t remember which was which. It’s always stairs, isn’t it? Usually down, into the oldest spaces, the cellars that were once the workshop basements or the stockrooms. Sometimes, it was up stairs, needle thin wooden creaking passages, so you arrived breathless and stayed that way, if it was a good night.

You know what I’m choking on now? Nostalgia. I need to open a window.

Dreadful thing, nostalgia. I created this space to be all about stealing haunted futures and here, all I’m doing is rolling about in the gutter past. If I’m stealing a future, it needs to have its roots here, maybe, in the colours, in the iridescent black. But the red neon, I made that up, so it’s something that is yet to come. Something I’m stealing back from the world that isn’t yet.

I want a future for this city, and I think I can see the shape of it, but it isn’t clear yet, it’s all shades of probability. I can see neon and Saturday night and glittering black, but the rivers of Saturday morning light too, and the sun on rainy Tuesday pavements when the clocks go forward. And that’s why I see the death that’s inherent in nostalgia, the voice that says that life is over and only the broken biscuits of memories matter, as if all that we are worth is a few moments around midnight once.

And that’s a lie: You, you reading this, I hope to god that you know that you are so, so much more than one long ago lost triumph, because I don’t always know that for myself, and it hurts to forget it.

And that lie can get fucked. It’s poison, and each generation gets it hard coded into them and I’m sick of it. The past needs to savage the present, it should be what drives us to our stolen dreamlands, not be reduced to the lullaby chant at bedtime. I want to walk till my feet bleed, and listen to every future getting born, and make this place be what it needs to be.

I have literal dreams of this city, of the future it will be made of. In those dreams, the sun rises and I’ve never seen more blood red light in my life; the buildings are jagged and black, and they belong to us all, above roads that have become canals and studded with hidden codes in streetlight patterns. And I wake up so happy, because if you can imagine something huge and terrifying and so, so good, then it’s already started to arrive.

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Built Things Times and Places

Down and Up

Station platform: meeting people or leaving or arriving, it all feels so sharp. I can’t be there without remembering the times I set off, filled with fear (I have a phobia of travel) and exultation (paradoxically, I love seeing far away cities). Or arriving back alone again, save the ghosts of Sunday night. The times I met people (I can never find the right platform or the right door on the train). The times I said goodbye (I never knew, but some of those times were forever).

Once, about thirty years ago, the rivers came out of nowhere and the tracks became canals. In those days, I used to go the Leadmill, and god knows that this is a cliche, but before it was its current form, when it was largely funded by the local authority, and had a teak clad TV in the bar that we used to watch Blind Date on at about 8PM with the bouncers. It was a bit of a family type thing back then. So when the river rose here in the cellars too, it felt like a personal attack. My warm and oddly homely drunk space, normally cigarette warm, was suddenly dank and altered. If teenage Saturday night wasn’t safe, what was?

Clawing dark and dirty waters. Old words that they repeat, each year, a daughter or a son.

The river is hidden below the station. There are tunnels and passages down there, Victorian arches, sometimes cathedral high, sometimes too low to move in any way other than a crawl. And the rivers, many of them shifting and mixing below the streets, below platform five.

Fragments of the city catch there, in the dark. Half a pair of scissors, an electric iron, a toy car, a number plate, a twisted length of lead. Some of them get placed deliberately upon little ledges, ornaments for the bats and pale ghost crayfish. Some of them wash up on altars shaped by the current, the islands that form in the odd burst of daylight, green scrabbling for a grasp on the day, odd scarlet weeds highlighting, as though the mud and patchy grass were text, lost language of the undercity.

I live almost as high as one can live here. Up the hill where it snows before anywhere else. There’s a high mast here, a transmitter pylon that you can see from the other side of the valley, from miles away, a landmark. The sheer mountain weight between here, at the cold electrical height and the river cathedrals down below, the enormity of it, the stories that space has consumed over thousands of years. They used to call this place the Winds of Heaven (advertising campaign for the houses nearly a century ago). Air and Water, elemental balance, yet even here, as high as you can get, there’s a spring, breaking the ground, contained under iron plates, but loud and making its way back to the wider, faster waters, haunted as they are by time and ruins and memory.

There’s no point to any of this, except that there are springs and rivers and tunnels and pylons, and the wind on the hillside, and bats below the earth, and, now and again, little weird found families, and goodbyes at the station and joyous all encompassing greetings that burned with love and friendship and the need to just hold all our people really close, just for a moment, because all these things are true, true as old city stone in the dark, truest stories of all.

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Times and Places

Tuesday evening in town, March or September

 – throughout all the pain and fear, all our dark days, yours and mine, there’ll always be Tuesday night, and the big secret of Tuesday nights,

 with just a little rain, but still quite bright somehow without a sun that you can see, and it’s not quite seven yet, and not many people about, because everyone’s home having their tea, but not quite everyone, people going somewhere, they’re starting to appear,

 and it’s not a frenzied carnival like Saturday, it’s so gentle and the city holds you and smiles and it’s all right, that’s the big secret really, that it’s all right and Tuesday will come back around again, normal Tuesday, with all the stories carrying on, ending and starting and normal Tuesday night in town, absolutely like every other one, big life stories walking quickly across each other’s path, like skipping stones across the flat grey river, down by the bridge on the island,

and you aren’t at home, not nearly, you’re a bus ride, a long walk away, somewhere that’s different and holds the shape of your face with the shopfront lights left on and that couple walking past, still in shirts and lanyards and shoes that no-one wears, because it’s Tuesday night in town and not quite dark yet and still time to work a little bit late and get home in time,

 and it’s all right, even when it sings paper cut sharpt in your chest and behind your eyes, paper cut sharp on the edge of the evening, it’s all right, and Tuesday night when no-one’s out, there’s music somewhere and it doesn’t matter about work tomorrow, because there’s somewhere to be that isn’t the end of the world,

so normal and so full of a magic that sings like wineglass song right through our heads, and the roads will shine a bit in the half rain and half light, and it’ll be full of an enchantment too big for any one heart alone.  Hold my hand tight my loves, and we’ll go walking, shiny second skins reflecting all the stars as they come out one by one.

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Times and Places Uncategorized

Last Quarter

I’m not saying anything new.

The light, the summer light, is losing its intensity.  I’ve talked about it a lot; the high calorie light of early August that takes on a sad paleness as the month fades.  I’m mixing metaphors, if you’re counting.  

There’s a little broken piece of memory that I have.  The last day of the summer holidays, a very long time ago.  Darkness rising all around, a clear sky and the first hints of cold, right on the very edge of perception.  My parents, wanting a walk, and we walked and walked, down silent streets that were the very essence of a Sunday night, all dereliction and longing and the dreadful aura of ironing shirts  (my family have very strong views on the horror of Sunday night).

And the stars were coming out, in my memory at least.  I don’t know where we went, just that it was somewhere that I’d never been before.  A suburban street, a good half hour from home.   And we went to see a streetlamp, because my dad worked for the street lighting department.  It was a gas lamp that had been converted to electricity, a little shiny white bulb when all the others were sickly migraine amber.  We looked at this streetlamp, then we went home again.  And I was sad because it was the end of the holiday.

 I’ve dreamed variations on that moment for about thirty years.  Dreams that end with the feeling that the holiday is now over, and I’ll never see my dream friends again.  

That’s my biggest fear and I’m writing about it here and now because writing about it is a way of dealing with it.  Saying goodbye to someone and it’s the last time, and you know it.  Didn’t someone define the meaning of hell as that precise concept?  Does that mean my personal hell is feeling sad looking at  a cast iron lamp-post?  ‘cause that’s quite on-brand, really.

September is pure magic, but part of that is the understanding that we are giving up summer and the long days.  Where I live, I can lie in bed and listen to drunken songs and laughter, the exact same sounds that have been heard on this road for over a thousand years now, perhaps much longer.  And they are summer sounds; they grow less as the year grows old, except around Christmas of course.  Those late falling nights (and for children and teachers, the long stretch of summer days) are what we give up, our little unknowable sacrifice.

Oh, it’s not like we have a choice, but still we give up on the idea of them.  A heatwave in late September feels horribly wrong, because we’ve allowed ourselves to let go of the summer, so that we can walk in colder mornings and under early stars, so that we can burn old wood, because we’ve been doing that on that very road for at least four thousand years.

Remember what we burn?  Chipped with paint, fragments of things that fell apart, iron nails, splinters.  When August becomes September I can think about the nights when I look down on all the streets and see the maps of bonfires, every single one with an audience; no-one builds a fire and doesn’t let it hold their attention (or if they do, they learn otherwise quite quickly).    Every single distant speck of fire is surrounded by What Happened, be it hand-holding, or sadness, or being horribly drunk, or devilish excitement, or tears, or the utterly unexpected catch of the heart when reality gets theatrical and delivers a wild magic that doesn’t equate to explanations or words at all.

I’m not saying anything new, but I have a sadness tonight and that’s a beautiful thing, and I want to watch my summer’s end sadness by the last quarter of this August moon.  There will be fires and meetings and perfect frosts, but now is the end of August, a fine night for flying sadness like a kite.

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Built Things Times and Places

Unsociable Hours

I want to grasp at the edge of the story, of such large machines and cold, cold people trying to warm themselves in a world of floodlighting and hard edges.  

Once, I had a job that meant I had to stay up all night, in strange spaces.  A converted nineteenth century factory, all beams and echoing voids and three hundred spinning screensavers in each wing.  It was a place without obvious comfort where I felt so at home that I still have urgent dreams about it, in which the sense of loss is so concrete that it actually wakes me, like physical pain.  

This is beyond my understanding; I wasn’t really happy there, though I was there for a long time. I suppose it was the regularity and order of the place, the sense of systems and patterns that helped my autism feel less painful right then, in the face of some hard times.  But not just that, there was a feeling of a heavy history, of different palimpsest layers. It was always there, but at 4am, you could really feel it. Shadows in conference rooms that were the very definition of liminal spaces. The security guards spilling huge scandal over a rollup. Secrets and the baked air of dead meetings, but more, older, deeper, darker, shining like one single light left on in a huge block of still windows.

The recent layer, the surface. Rituals and conventions built over the ten years that the building had served its current use, inheriting some from the mythical Head Office far away, which had generations of this to draw on. Legends of days when people all in brown suits smoked at their desks and the Christmas party was a magic festival of misrule.  And don’t think for a second that I’m mocking this.  It’s a powerful spell, and I sometimes find myself regretting its loss.

Further down, further back, the steel and engineering companies rising from the postblitz years.  Offices and factory floors.  Small lives, spinning round each other, love and fury, coldly bored indifference, craving to be far away and deep warm security.  Small lives, and still bigger than Orion, faint lives, but shining bright as Polaris, and navigating by each other, finding their way home.  Each one, the biggest story in the whole world, and so long ago, and so unrecorded, lost again, but that’s how it should be.  The forgetting of whole lives.  

Back again, and it was the industrial revolution, winding metal round machines and wheels, dirty skies, and who knows what that world was like?  Perhaps it seemed like a frightening and wonderful new world, innovation and social transformation.  Perhaps it was awful, a steel horror story of sparks and slavery.  I wouldn’t know, but I know that every one of them knew that they were the centre of the world and every one of them was quite right.  So much importance, life or death, worries, joys, desire, dreams, love.  The biggest stories that the world has ever known, but suddenly, it’s a big empty hall full of screensavers flashing on, with the original oak beams preserved up above as a memorial to lives so large that they vanished from our sight in totality.

Forgotten, but that’s how it should be.

Before then, always the river.  My little office was on the edge of the river.  Always, the sounds of water, heron’s wings just for a second.  The old river, before it all and probably after as well.  And if you strained your eyes, you would notice that I sat and worked every day with a graveyard looking back at me from just over the water. The river water, from the Peaks, to the heart of the city, twisting turning. Sometimes it turns feral and takes lives, destroys. It has an old name, a goddess name. It doesn’t forget a thing, you just know it. This story is twenty years back in time; the little office is just a storeroom now, and no-one remembers the people who worked there, but I bet the plaster still cracks and shifts with the voice of the river, whispering that one day, even these heavy stones will fall.

Forgotten lives, because that’s how it should be.  Clinging to memory, trying to record and claim every second, perhaps giving in to fear, that’s one craving that I have. And also, allowing myself to just be a memory and allow the possibility that the memory of me will fade and be gone one day.  And I’m happy with that, but that’s the deal; if, in my own way, for the right people, I can be bigger than Orion and bright as Polaris today, I can be happily forgotten tomorrow.